I don’t know anybody that’s heard of MALEVOLENCE, so it’s weird that it has a prequel. Same writer-director (Stevan Mena), similar pretentious title, totally different feel, way better in pretty much every conceivable category. It looks great, the acting is good, the characters are way more likable, the mood and atmosphere are stronger. The mostly unoriginal content is elevated by strong filmatism and confident pacing that tells you to be more concerned about the characters than the screaming and blood.
It starts with a more in-depth and dramatic version of the same event that started MALEVOLENCE: the 1989 kidnapping of a little boy named Martin Bristol (Chase Pechacek), from a swing set in his own yard. In this version we learn from his mom that he has a rare condition that prevents him from feeling pain, and he has to be checked hourly for injuries, since he wouldn’t know if he’d hurt himself. Shit, not only is this psycho taking him away from his home, he’s not gonna know how to take care of him properly.
MALEVOLENCE skipped ahead 10 years, BEREAVEMENT only 5. So I guess it’s a midquel, like BAMBI II. Of course we see some of what was referred to in the end of the first one: young Martin (Spencer List), living in a slaughterhouse, forced to watch and participate in murders, starting to even scare his abuser Sutter (Brett Rickaby, who played Frank Gorshin in RETURN TO THE BATCAVE). This is the hard part of the movie to watch, because Sutter (who brazenly kidnaps from a big scary truck with his Sutter Poultry logo painted on the side – if you see something say something, people) keeps young women strung up and screaming in terror as he tries to teach the kid a lesson about slaughtering animals.
Luckily that’s not the whole movie – mostly it’s the story of Allison (Alexandra Daddario), a young woman who goes to live with her uncle (Michael Biehn) in rural Pennsylvania after her parents are killed. She’s sad and doesn’t fit in at school and all she really likes to do is run. I don’t mean that like running away from her problems, I mean jogging. This is how she gets to know the area and notices the little boy in the window of the creepy abandoned slaughterhouse down the road. So there are these two characters being raised by very different adopted parents, and they are destined to eventually meet. But the movie takes its sweet time getting there, and I like that.
Allison does meet a boy, William (Nolan Gerard Funk), who is nice to her and seems like a good kid even though his car is filled with empty pill bottles. His dad is a drunk in a wheelchair who yells at him, and his mom hung herself, so this not having parents thing is a full on motif.
With her shitty situation and lack of whining, Allison is easy to identify with. Also in my opinion I am a dirty old man, even if the actress is in her mid twenties in real life, you shouldn’t do that to me, man. Biehn is really good and three-dimensional, a protective uncle who is mean to the boy that Allison likes but never crosses the line into asshole territory, and can be genuinely sweet and supportive. His wife (Kathryn Meisle) is very believable and his little daughter (Peyton List, sister of the kid playing Martin) is a funny little kid who has a good chemistry with both of them.
It’s so character-driven that it would be hard to label as “torture porn,” but I’m sure the labelers would slap labels on it if they knew it existed and had a surface on which to adhere a label. It is very unpleasant to sit through the scenes of the girls tied up, especially since the abductions of both Martin and the waitress seem very believable. That gives it that TV-movie-about-Ted-Bundy-or-somebody type of extra sleazy creepiness. I like it better when it turns into more of a cat-and-mouse, but I have to admit to a good horrified thrill in the part where this fucko one-ups the meat hook scene from TEXAS CHAIN SAW. Ouch!
According to the ol’ IMDb, this came out in 2010, but was shot in Fall of 2007. That means it came out before Rob Zombie’s version of HALLOWEEN. I mention that because it’s got some similarities in the way it takes a slasher from a previous movie and then tries to show him as a spooky kid and make up an origin story. It’s got this pulpy idea of his disorder of not feeling pain helping him to also have no empathy. The obvious hopelessness of trying to save him only makes Allison’s attempt more noble.
But it’s also about this Sutter character, who’s a little bit TEXAS CHAIN SAW Cook, a little bit Norman Bates. He’s the victimizer here but we get the idea that he was a victim too. He’s tormented by visions of a cow-skulled angel of death and at times seems like he would be happier to lose this one and have it all over with. Pretty creepy.
I gotta tell you, I expected this one to be boring crap, but it’s the most solid movie of this type that I’ve seen in a while. It really got me, and kept me thinking about it afterwards. Good thing I’m a completist.
End of review except for…
Allison has all the makings of a real strong Final Girl. She’s independent (being emotionally on her own, and going against the wishes of her uncle), physically capable (with all her jogging) and observant (being the only one to see Martin in 5 years, and then the only one to figure out who he is and try to help him). When she gets beat up and locked in a freezer the two men in her life, Uncle J and William, separately track her down, with every reason to prove themselves. Then they’re abruptly cut down, and not in an LL Cool J way where they’re gonna get back up. No, we realize with a gulp, she will not be rescued. She’s gotta do it herself. And she does – not only busting herself out of the freezer but finding Martin and physically carrying him out of the slaughterhouse. Now she’s not only a survivor, she’s a hero.
And then… oh, fuck. I mean, what a kick in the nuts. I know the real bummer should be that the whole family is killed, including the little girl. All but the little dog. (And the mouse’s whereabouts are unknown I believe.) But when Allison gets it it’s the worst, because I feel like this is somewhat of a violation of the slasher movie code of conduct. Yeah, unhappy endings are edgy, violence is ugly in real life, subvert the dominant paradigm man, all that shit. I get it, and the intent is to be upsetting, so it’s successful. But I think you also gotta recognize that most of the best slasher movies are enjoyable because they ultimately have a light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s what makes the genre satisfying. Most of the biggest influences on this series – TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH, admittedly not PSYCHO though – put us through the ringer but let some poor girl claw her way out of there with her heart still beating. And it makes it all worth it.
I mean, war is fucked up in real life, but STAR WARS wouldn’t be better if they lost in the end and the survivors gave up and joined the empire. Sometimes it’s better to be enjoyable.
The heroine surviving would’ve been especially appreciated in this movie because it’s a prequel, so there’s not much room for hope otherwise. We know if we’ve seen MALEVOLENCE that Martin can’t be redeemed, that he can’t be killed either, that Sutter will be killed not by our escaping protagonists but by Martin, later, at home. But that doesn’t mean Allison can’t escape. Maybe she gets out of there but nobody believes her. There could be a survivor, they did it in the THE THING prequel. Why can’t we have a survivor here, huh? It’s not fair.
So I disagree with that, but I forgive it. Despite the subject matter I don’t get the sense that this Stevan Mena is big on shock value. He doesn’t seem like he’s rubbing our faces in the violence and lecturing us about it like Rob Zombie in HALLOWEEN II. And I guess you gotta kill one of them every once in a while to make us believe these movies aren’t bluffing. Allison sacrificed herself for the credibility of all Final Girls.
By the way, I thought Daddario looked familiar and it turns out it’s ’cause I’ve seen her in the trailer for TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D. So the poor girl is gonna have to go through all this again, and apparently with the same character name as her little cousin here.
Speaking of which, I want to mention another great moment in all this horribleness, when Sutter comes into little Wendy Miller’s room and she pleads with him to not hurt her animals. It’s such an odd kid thing for her to say and then it clicks with all of this backstory of Sutter being traumatized by his dad (abductor?) making him kill animals, and his life-long curiosity about animal pain. So it’s a perfect way to stop him in his tracks. Not that that helps us in the end.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.